In my psychology classes, I learned that both nature and nurture work in tandem to form us from an early age. All of our experiences, good and bad, have had a hand in forming who we are today. In class, I was re-reminded of this very fact, much to my frustration. The past cannot be changed but we can definitely learn to work through the scars left behind by our experiences. Eventually, events from the past will have less of a hold on our present. We will no longer be slaves to their imprint and the scars will fade.
In my connective tissue class, I was reminded that a significant experience from my past still haunts me.
Back in 2010, I experienced sexual harassment at my workplace by someone who I’d trusted and felt had my best interest in mind. I could have not misjudged someone so wrongly. I’ve written about my experiences with this particular period in time on this blog before. I doubt this will be the last time, unfortunately.
I worked for a FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner) back in 2009-2010 as a receptionist and phlebotomist (working under his licence). This FNP was my boss but I also saw him as my healthcare provider, for my well visit, at his persistent insistence. To be fair, I was past due by about a year, making it harder for me to say “no”. My boss worked at the hospital before opening his own practice. He was my nurse when my second child was born. He was also my CNA instructor a few years before I started working for him. I learned from him, knew his family and trusted him.
During my well exam, the topic of libido came up. This was the first time any medical provider had asked me about this and at the time, I was grateful for the conversation because I had some concerns. After an uncomfortable conversation and listening to the assessment and advice, I was free to go. I thought I’d take the considerations in advice and that would be the end of it. Conversation over and topic dropped. But it wasn’t. The topic of my libido and the suggestions were brought up one night when I was trying to get my work done after hours. Since no other provider had broached this topic with me, I was interested in the conversation. There is a way to discuss personal, private topics without sharing one’s personal experiences. That was the sort of conversation I thought I was inviting but I was wrong. My boss wanted to talk about my personal sex life and eventually his. Over the course of approximately a month, my boss would enquire if I’d taken his suggestions regarding my sex life. These conversations became something I could predict. I started avoiding my boss after hours and tried to leave quickly after work.
Before all of this above nonsense occured, my boss had a habit of invading my personal space. He knew me during my CNA instruction and was fully aware I had a larger personal space bubble than he did. In one of my CNA classes, he used me as the example of a person’s personal space. He moved in close and quickly towards me and backed me right up! When I worked in his office, he would put his arm around my shoulder at times. I always felt his hand was dangling a bit too close to my chest. When I saw him as a patient, he flopped my arm into his lap, towards his crotch during a blood draw. When I was sitting up on the exam table, he pressed his pelvis into my knee and I felt his privates next to my leg. When I’d be sitting at the L shaped corner fitted desk, he’d stand right beside my chair (I had nowhere to move) and his privates were nearly resting on my arm (parked on the arm rest of the chair).
All of this contact and body placement was done under the guise that everything was on the level. During all of this, he acted like nothing nefarious was being done. He made it out that I was the weirdo for being uncomfortable with touch and having a need for personal space!
I genuinely questioned myself and my reactions. I used to pride myself on having good intuition but somewhere along the way, I stopped trusting my gut. Why should I think he was acting inappropriately? I knew this man, I trusted him. Surely he would not do anything that was not above board?! Surely this was all OK. He knew the rules! He’d taken an oath to do no harm. Surely I was overreacting…….
Fast forward to present day: April 30, 2018. Today we worked on connective tissue techniques for stomach massage. I was partnered with a lovely, gender fluid individual who has a penis. We were instructed to edge our hand down until we located the top of the pubic symphysis. This landmark would make the bottom of the abdominal area and we were to work across the area and up. Not a big deal, really. I was not doing anything inappropriate and I was following our instructor’s direction. I struggled to do this move on my own, not quite reaching low enough. Our instructor came over and showed me how to go about it. I cautiously went about doing just as I was shown, finally finishing the trade. I explained to my partner the reasons behind my hesitation and this was met with understanding.
I stepped out of the classroom after my trade and my lovely friend J was in the hallway. He asked how things were going. I told him what was happening in my head and why I was struggling. He was there with good advice and a hug. A much needed hug. I told him I wish I never had those experiences 8 years ago. It has made me terrified that I will touch someone and they will feel like I did all those years ago. I am terrified that someone will take my touch as bad or wrong or think I am trying to get a cheeky grab in when that is not my intention at all.
We can’t erase the past which haunts us. We can only work through it, keep doing what scares us and keep good intentions in our heart. I knew touch was going to be an issue, even before I started school. I just didn’t know how much of a challenge it would be in some moments.
Today I was thankful for the grace and understanding my partner and I both had for each other. She struggled with breast draping, I struggled with finding the end of the abdomen! I cannot unlive the past, no one can. However, I can take comfort in the fact that I now have my voice. Eight years ago, I didn’t have a voice and that is why those events persisted as long as they did. I am thankful for the growth that has happened since I’ve been at massage school. May it continue as it is greatly needed. As we’ve been learning about connective tissue these past few weeks, I shall end this blog with a quote by Ida Rolf.
“Go around the problem: get the system sufficiently resilient so that it is able to change, and it will change. It doesn’t have to be forced. It’s that forcing that you will have to avoid at all costs.”
–Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D.